Conference Audiences To Speakers: It Is All About Me, Not You!

50/365 - So say we all!

Me, me, me, me, me!

No, it’s not the latest Sesame Street song sung by Beaker.

Nor am I talking about the “Me Generation.”

I’m talking about today’s conference audiences focused on their own ROI and not the speaker as entertainer.

Me, Me, Me!

Today’s audience’s see conference keynotes and education sessions differently than in the past.

The emphasis is shifting. We are shifting from a speaker-centric, expert-emphasis conference to attendee-emphasis and learner-centric conference.

Audience members are not willing to pay $2,000-$3,000 (lodging, airfare, expenses and registration) to attend three days at a conference to be spectators passively watching a speaker perform. They want to learn something relevant that they can apply immediately when they return to their office. Their bosses are depending upon them to return with an increase in productivity, innovation and creativity.

Sure, there will be times when audiences are willing to hear a motivational, inspirational story. Sure they will be willing to listen to someone overcoming great obstacles. Yet, those are in the minority. We don’t want to go to an industry conference filled with speakers of mountain climbers, Olympic athletes and those overcoming great obstacles. One motivational message per conference is enough!

The Speaker Changes Needed

Attendee-emphasis and learner-centric conferences are more focused on what the participants are doing during education sessions instead of what speakers are saying.

Speakers act as facilitators engaging the audience learning tasks. It’s not about attendees just copying down presenter examples or statements. It’s about them generating their own insights.

It’s not about audiences recording what the speaker says. It’s about them working with other peers on solutions to common problems.

The ones doing the most talking in these education sessions are the audiences. They are asking their peers questions, summarizing content, generating hypotheses, proposing theories and offering critical analyses.

So we are looking for speakers that are more like facilitators of learning opportunities. We want speakers to be our guide and coach during a presentation. We want them to have a conversation with us and then allow us to converse with each other.

Speaker As Facilitator Metaphors

For those that willing to make that shift, here are some speaker as facilitators metaphors to help them understand this change.

1. Speakers as gardeners.

Speakers are to be like gardeners that create great conditions for plants to bloom and bear fruit. They are to create great interactive experiences that foster audience growth and learning. However, it is the audience that masters the material and develops the learning, not just the speaker.

2. Speakers as guides.

Speakers act as guides that show audiences the way but expect each participant to walk on their own. They encourage their audiences to map out their plans while offering advice and insights. They point out sights as they’ve traveled this way in the past.

3. Speakers as midwives.

To paraphrase Harvard Educational Review author, W. Ayers, speakers must act like midwives that empower their audiences and foster learning. The speakers are there at the birth of their audience’s learning on the topic. They find ways to activate their audiences because they know that learning requires active participation and not passive listening.

Hat tips to Professors and authors Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark, Dr. Frank Nguyen, Dr. John Sweller, Dr. Marcia L. Tate, Dr. Maryellen Weimer and others for their insights and thinking on speakers as facilitators.

What are some other speaker-as-facilitator metaphors to add to this list? What role do education professionals play in securing speakers for conferences?

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  1. Jeff-

    I have never quite thought of myself as a midwife..and as the mother of two, that’s way too graphic for me! But let’s work with the analogy here…the seeds have already been planted (ahem!) and an eloquent facilitative speaker draws forth those ideas, gives them shape and inspires the audience to take action.

    Let’s face it. The real work doesn’t get done at your convention. You can get a jump start – some how to’s that inspire you to say, “I can do this!” You were looking for an analogy. I think speakers are the “Monster” (or other caffeinated beverage) to your meetings! Speakers bring the juice, the audience brings the amps and both get excited/amped up about the possibilities!

    I think the challenge for us all is between the cup and the lip. We all walk away with good intentions, so it really is about the conversation that extends BEYOND the convention – to support and nurture the audience into ACTION. I guess it’s continual caffeine to the system….

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